With children and food, pick your battles wisely. When I first became a mum, I was full of ideals about how I would feed my children. I had fruit and vegie purees ready to go in the freezer (homemade of course!). I had bought and read all the books and was ready to go with gusto.
Unfortunately, my children had other ideas. The day my son learned to push the vegetables away, he did so and has been pushing them away ever since. Child number two was not much better. My children love meat, as long as there are no sauces involved. All food must be separate on the plate. Eggs are fine, but not on toast. As for vegetables – no way.
As parents, we need to tread carefully when dealing with children who have different ways of eating than we would like. It can lead to drawn-out battles, tension and stress. In my practice, I talk to adults who have difficult relationships with food and they often blame their parents.
They talk about being made to finish everything on the plate whether they were hungry or not, feeling ashamed because negative comments were made about their eating habits, being ‘rewarded’ with sweet food and being told that food was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Unfortunately, negative patterns created in childhood can continue.
I’m sure most parents do not want their children to have a negative relationship with food, so how do we avoid this?
Every situation is unique, but this is what I’m doing with my (challenging) children:
I talk about food based on facts, not emotion – for example, telling them they should eat protein because it helps muscles grow and bodies get taller. Carbohydrate-based foods are a great choice before sport because they give good energy. However, they don’t need lots of energy at 8pm, so biscuits are not a good choice at that time of day.
I serve my children simple food in a way I know they can eat and encourage them to try new things regularly, without forcing the issue. I don’t make them finish all the food on their plate, but they know that they won’t get any other food until their meal is finished.
Rather than labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they know that certain foods such as ice cream and chips should be eaten occasionally rather than every day.
We’ve decided that in our family it is perfectly ok to not eat dinner together every night. My teenager is starving at 4pm so he has dinner as soon as he gets home from school and another meal later in the evening after sports practice.
There are enough battles when dealing with children: don’t make food another one on the list. Go with what suits your family. There’s no right or wrong.
As for my children, I’m not sure if what I’m doing is right, but I am trying my best. If they end up in a counsellor’s office one day, I just hope it won’t be me getting the blame!